Special-interest tourism like rural-, eco-, and ethno-cultural tourism is a well-accepted form of land use that may be compatible with the conservation of local biological and cultural diversity [1
]. This holds particularly true for tropical environments where, for instance, high rates of annual precipitation erode soil nutrients [2
] resulting in reduced food production and life quality [3
]. Indeed, land use such as low-scale tourism, which depends on the existence of forests and multi-species agroforests, is a more sustainable alternative compared to land uses such as mining, oil extraction, and monoculture, which require high levels of deforestation with harmful consequences for the local environment and cultures.
Developing countries like Ecuador that host areas with high levels of both biological and cultural diversities consider tourism as part of their efforts in sustainable development [4
]. Many tourists visit remote regions like the Amazon in order to witness the relationships between indigenous peoples and nature. Still, the arrival of outsiders may alter normal life in the Amazon. Tourism-generated challenges range from the arrival of tourists interested in drugs (see Prayag et al. for a review of the literature on Ayahuasca-tourism [5
]), to concerns by host populations seeking to keep their customs away from what they consider a potential “prostitution” of their cultural and natural values [6
]. Against this background, the global success of food tourism both in well-established [7
] and in indigenous settings [8
] appears less harmful and, especially in those cases where indigenous people have control of their tourist offers [9
], can be a successful tool for regional development.
This paper seeks to contribute to the discussion on how to enhance sustainable development in emerging, tropical countries through food tourism. Thus, the focus of the current work is on setting up strategies aimed at increasing small-scale commercialization of Amazonian plants (in opposition to local monoculture trends) and social entrepreneurship among those indigenous groups interested in building gastronomic operations focused on Amazonian food.
For the purpose of assessing the pros and cons of food tourism for peoples of the Amazon, we have chosen one, locally well accepted species deeply related to the intimacies of the indigenous peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon: a tree commonly named guayusa, waysa or wayusa whose scientific name is the above-mentioned Ilex guayusa.
We answer the aforementioned questions by means of a case study from the Ecuadorian Amazon, and we provide some recommendations for both policy makers and practitioners. This work is part of a broader research project focused on the sustainable development of the Ecuadorian Amazon and is conducted by a multi-disciplinary research team composed of both indigenous and non-indigenous researchers. The afore mentioned inclusion of indigenous scholars in our team was assumed as part of our efforts to reduce Western biases during the economic-cultural analysis of indigenous heritage food, and to serve as an internal check to guarantee respect for ethical research principles during the whole investigation process.
1.1. Literature Review on Food Tourism and Marketing of Local Food in Rural Areas
Whether set in a western rural location or in an indigenous setting, food tourism is successful only if it succeeds in creating an allure around food, which captures the attention of distracted and increasingly demanding tourists [8
In tourism, the experiential approach used by Pine and Gilmore [13
] and based on the experience economy theory has become a worldwide tool for designing memorable tourism experiences in the context of food tourism [15
], too. From a managerial perspective, this approach consists of the following elements: (a) provision of a theme to contextualize the experience and staging it by means of a story; (b) harmonization of impressions; (c) avoidance of negative cues; and (d) creation of material and sensory memorabilia to reinforce recollections.
Although Pine and Gilmore’s approach has become extremely popular among practitioners, criticism has been raised by several authors. For instance, Popp [16
] claims that the experience economy theory is underpinned by a simplistic stimulus-response mechanism that—apart from being manipulative and ethically problematic [17
]—does not contribute to any increase in scientific, in-depth knowledge about tourist perception of outstanding experiences.
To exacerbate the discussion, Stockebrand et al. [18
] demonstrate that the use of stories and the pursuit of harmonization “at all costs” are not always appropriate in the commercialization of local food, probably because “the decision to ingest something that is very intimate” [19
] also requires a genuinely intimate communication technique which addresses the familiar sphere of tourists, thereby reassuring them.
This had led to the search for alternative or integrative managerial models, among which Sidali and co-workers’ experience-intimacy approach [20
] has emerged as a framework that is particularly suitable for promoting local food to rural tourists [21
]. Basically, the authors build their theory upon psychological research on love and intimacy in relationships [25
], as well as sociological studies focused on the tensions associated with the process of globalization [26
]. Accordingly, the individual response to this pervasive sense of discomfort is a pursuit of love and empathy, not only in personal but also in economic transactions [25
]. Therefore, in the frame of the experience-intimacy approach, food tourists are particularly attracted to food specialties when these are promoted with strategies focused on de-commercialization and sharing, conceptualized by Sidali et al. [20
] as follows (regarding “mutual disclosure”, conceptualized by Sidali et al. [20
], we refer to the aspect labelled “mutual learning” in the following section, which incorporates and expands the strategy of “mutual disclosure”, originally conceptualized by Sidali et al. [20
Rituals: Practices of group consumption that consist of an intimate sharing of tangible and intangible symbols around an iconic food. The ritual cements the sense of belonging among participants of the food (e.g., fondue) or drink (e.g., tea ritual) experience.
Coherence: Whenever the territorial identity of a place is forged around an iconic food or agricultural product, it is important to create alliances with other stakeholders of the region in order to promote both the tangible and the intangible qualities of the product.
Personal signature: The handmade character of a local food, either in its composition or in its way of being presented, creates a strong emotional linkage for food tourists.
Anti-capitalistic attitude: According to this strategy, hosts or producers of local food that openly show an opposition to the principle of “homo oeconomicus” are considered more attractive to food tourists and consumers of food specialties.
Struggle against extinction
: The scarcer a food may become, the higher the bid of attention towards it by gourmets or food tourists. This explains why “underdog narratives” [28
] are widely used to promote food specialties.
Sustainability: Even well-established food practices cannot escape the new paradigm of sustainability-related practices. For example, conventional food labels are being altered to reflect the concerns of responsible consumers and include new labels such as animal welfare, local food and carbon capture labels. This confirms the fact that environmental friendliness and social and cultural sustainability are pervasive macrotrends both in the agribusiness and in the food tourism sector.
It seems that the approaches mentioned above are particularly suitable for the attraction of food tourists in developed countries, where they have long been realized. In contrast, for countries characterized by a high concentration of indigenous people it is plausible to think that the success of food tourism is proportional to its adaptation to and integration in the cosmovision of the indigenous population living in that territory. To this end, in the following section, we focus on the indigenous cosmovision in order to complement the aforementioned factors and contribute, in this way, to a more realistic, less Western-based (and biased) conceptualization of food tourism in an indigenous setting.
1.2. Food Tourism in an Indigenous Setting: The Importance of the Indigenous Cosmovision
Traditional knowledge is frequently politicized, as is shown in important streams of research such as indigenous tourism studies [9
] or the huge literature dedicated to the constitution of UNESCO heritage [30
]. All in all, the trend towards turning cultural goods into property to gain economic advantages is particularly visible in the international political arena: whereas at international tables national states with a high concentration of indigenous groups often advocate stronger protection for indigenous populations, on the domestic level these concerns are not set as a priority on the political agenda (for a broader insight on the debate about cultural property issues, please refer to the huge literature of the research group “Cultural Property” at the following URL: http://cultural-property.uni-goettingen.de/
In Ecuador the situation is apparently different: according to the Ecuadorian Ministry of Heritage Coordination [31
], in Ecuador there are 1,018,176 persons belonging to 14 ethnic groups and 18 indigenous groups. According to constitutionalists, Ecuador has an advanced constitution and the concept of sumac kawsay
(i.e., good living as a participative process among all ethnic groups in the country) has awakened worldwide interest [32
]. Multiculturalism is recognized as an important, transversal axis of social transformation. In Latin American policy making, a transversal axis (eje transversal) is any process or entity articulating and contributing to the inter-relation of elements or processes across and within levels; for example, mathematics and history are to be considered transversal axes helping to give coherence to the complexities of other subjects in schools. Thus, multiculturalism is considered as a transversal axis of social transformation both by social science scholars [33
] and by indigenous representative institutions such as the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA) and the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (UNASUR), which are recognized by the Ecuadorian state.
Notwithstanding these efforts in the tourism field, policy making has been ambivalent. On the one hand, the sustainable development of low-scale tourism is considered an important tool for boosting the economy and, at the same time, for decreasing state dependency on oil and on other natural resources. On the other hand, however, state programs aimed at encouraging social entrepreneurship among indigenous communities have fallen short of achieving such a goal. As a consequence, the current state of indigenous tourism—viewed under the scope proposed by Hinch and Butler [9
]—tends to remain in a stage of “culture dispossession”, where the indigenous theme is present but indigenous control is still low. For instance, it is very common to see indigenous people working as labourers, but not as managers of tourism enterprises. Furthermore, tourists rarely acquire information concerning the indigenous language, customs, traditions, and the values that exist in the host community [41
]. Prior coordination between indigenous authorities and tourist organizers only rarely takes place, and this may exacerbate feelings of frustration and anger that can occur when tourists enter particular geographical or architectural sites or consume local products that are considered sacred by the indigenous people.
Accordingly, we propose some aspects to be taken into account in order to make these encounters more symmetrical and beneficial in terms of the preservation and valorisation of the indigenous cosmovision:
Mutual learning as an explicit goal of the tourist encounter
: Ancestral manifestations and life traditions of indigenous people, such as the minka (community work) or sun and moon raymikuna (celebrations) among the Kichwa indigenous groups, have survived both colonialism and globalization. Indigenous values such as amallulla (do not lie), amakilla (do not be lazy), and amashwa (do not steal) forge Kichwas’ identity [42
]. The outcome of tourist encounters with indigenous people should thus be mutual learning of different cultures based on shared experiences in a specific place and time.
Empowerment: Very often indigenous personnel are used as tourist service providers, for instance in food preparation or excursions in the forest whilst they almost completely lack roles in the administrative-managerial area. A successful, culturally diverse tourist encounter should provide an active role to indigenous hosts, including welcoming tourists personally, sharing accommodation in family homes, engaging in family and community activities, and equally distributing benefits to the whole community.
Regulated access to Intellectual Property (IP): Special attention should be given to confidential information shared by indigenous people and tourists. Thus, similarly to what happens in the case of scientific tourism, indigenous people should be made aware of the consequences of revealing their knowledge to tourists. Likewise, the latter should come to realize the value of their encounter in terms of enriching their knowledge.
: To attain the goals of mutual learning while empowering locals, community-based legislation should be applied. As is already the case in other countries (see, for instance, the anthropological study of Pereiro [43
] on Guna tourism in Panama), it is often necessary to organize contingents of visitors to preserve the environment and avoid culture shock in the community. Furthermore, it is plausible to think of linguistic and cultural preparation for tourists prior to their visit to indigenous sites.
Based on the above, Figure 1
presents our framework based on both the Western-based approach to food tourism in rural areas as well as the indigenous cosmovision.